North Korea: A Status Report on Nuclear Program, Humanitarian Issues, and Economic Reforms

Keith Luse and Frank Jannuzi East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Testimony to Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 23, 2004.

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Executive Summary

Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) staff members Keith Luse and Frank Jannuzi traveled to China, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan January 3-15 to assess the prospects for a peaceful negotiated solution to the North Korean nuclear issue and to follow-up on earlier visits to North Korea designed to encourage greater North Korean transparency on food aid and greater adherence to international norms of behavior on a broad array of human rights issues.

While in North Korea, our delegation interacted with a group of three private citizens - Dr. John Lewis of Stanford University, Jack Pritchard of the Brookings Institution, and Sig Hecker, former Director of Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratories - and accompanied them to the Yongbyon nuclear facility. This marked the first time North Korea has allowed foreigners to enter its key nuclear facilities since it expelled IAEA monitors in December, 2002. We have relied on the observations of Dr. Hecker to convey key findings from Yongbyon. Dr. Heckerís testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is attached to this report.

Over the course of five days in the North, we held a variety of meetings with DPRK officials to discuss their nuclear program and to encourage greater North Korean respect for human rights. The delegation sought to clarify North Koreaís December 9 offer to "freeze" its nuclear program, and urged North Korean officials to abandon their pursuit of nuclear weapons and seek a peaceful, negotiated solution to the crisis through multilateral dialogue.

While at Yongbyon, Dr. Hecker was able to confirm that the 5MWe nuclear reactor is running normally and that the 8,000 spent fuel rods which had been stored under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision under the terms of the 1994 Agreed Framework have been removed from their canisters and are no longer in the spent fuel storage facility. Our tour of the Radiochemical laboratory also convinced Dr. Hecker that North Korea has the capability to reprocess spent fuel and produce plutonium metal. North Korea did not make available any DPRK personnel who may have expertise in nuclear weapons design and manufacture, and Dr. Hecker reached no conclusions about the Northís ability to build a nuclear device.

During a discussion with Foreign Ministry officials on the Northís nuclear program following our time at Yongbyon, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan claimed that unlike Iran and Libya, North Korea actually has weapons of mass destruction. Kim said that North Korea had provided us with evidence of their "nuclear deterrent." These were the most explicit statements we received that North Korea has produced nuclear weapons.

As for U.S. allegations that North Korea has a clandestine program to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU), Kim Gye-gwan and other DPRK officials stated categorically that the DPRK has no program for enriching uranium.

On the human rights front, Luse and Jannuzi had the opportunity to engage in detailed discussions on a number of issues, including food aid, prison conditions, and the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean intelligence agents. We emphasized that the United Statesí concern for the human rights situation in North Korea reflects the deeply held convictions of the American people. SFRC staff encouraged DPRK officials to permit greater transparency for food aid deliveries under the auspices of the World Food Program and various non-governmental organizations, and we discussed ways in which North Korea might reduce its dependence on foreign food aid by adopting new methods of food production and moving toward market-based distribution mechanisms. The delegation pressed DPRK officials to allow outside access to its prison facilities to assess food needs and humanitarian issues there. We also met with Foreign Ministry officials to express our hope that North Korea would take steps to fully resolve the issue of the past abduction by the DPRK of more than a dozen Japanese nationals. We explained that the prompt resolution of this issue was a matter of international concern and of particular interest to members of the Congress. The delegation requested information on the abductees and their family members still in North Korea and passed this information on to the Japanese government.

Finally, the delegation had a chance to review the progress of North Koreaís economic reforms launched in July of 2002. We found considerable evidence that North Korea is committed to moving toward a market economy, but it is too soon to draw conclusions about the ultimate success or failure of these initiatives. North Korea suffers from critical resource shortages and it may not yet fully grasp the institutional changes that will be necessary if its fledgling economic reforms are to yield a significant boost in DPRK production and an improvement in living standards for the North Korean people. Even if North Koreaís economy begins to grow, it is not clear how this will affect the nationís social and political stability. Officials with whom we met recognized that the Northís ability to expand trade and attract foreign investment and receive loans from international financial institutions depends in large measure on the peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue.

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